It took me 2 weeks from applying to get the offer for my job.
But before that, I struggled a lot with marketing myself, getting responses, and interviewing well. I was just bad at things related to the industry job search process, and that cost me my mental health and time.
It goes to show that once you figure things out and do what you’re supposed to do at every step of the process, the more likely it is that you’ll succeed. Sure, you’re still up against candidates that may be selected over you, but you increase your chances of success significantly if you know what you’re doing.
The reason I’m sharing a timeline is because I think laying out my industry job search experience in that fashion, via the general time it took me to go about this process, may give people insight in a way that the simple quantification of “number of applications” won’t. I think it adds a layer of perspective on how long the process took and how much work it actually was.
I didn’t keep track of exactly how many applications I sent out, because a lot of my initial job applications (resume + cover letter) weren’t the best and I didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t think that actual number is too important.
To me, it never meant much to hear people say “I applied to 200 jobs” if 150 of those job applications were for suboptimal positions, jobs you were just desperate to get but didn’t really want to land, used terrible resumes, or wasn’t sent with a cover letter when it asked for one. I’ll still mention some numbers here and there, though.
So hopefully this post gives you a sense of how I did things! This is definitely more of an anecdotal post without much advice, but I thought it’d be interesting to share and for others to read. I liked hearing about others’ job search journeys too, when I was in the thick of it all. It was a whirlwind few months, but it worked out for me.
And trust me, it’ll work out for you, too.
If you’re looking for more practical tips, I definitely recommend you read through my posts below:
- Ph.D. to Industry Resume Template, Example, and Tips!
- Ph.D. to Industry Cover Letter Template and Tips
- 6 Important Things to Know About Getting an Industry Job After Your Ph.D.
I was deep in the midst of writing my dissertation.
I also knew that I wanted to get an industry job right out of grad school so I started applying to a bunch of jobs using a really cringe, CV-like resume that absolutely didn’t make sense for each individual job listing. It was so bad!
Yes, and it was also kind of bad that I started so late. If I knew everything I know now, about how to properly apply to industry jobs, I think starting 2-3 months before graduating would be reasonable, but that wasn’t reality.
I actually did keep a spreadsheet back then. I applied to about 20-25 jobs during this time. But because the technique (resume being totally terrible and not even mentioning anything from the job listings and the cover letter being equally terrible) was so bad, I barely got responses.
That made me think that I wasn’t ready for an industry job, when in reality I just wasn’t marketing myself properly and going about it the completely wrong way. I was totally ready for the transition back then, skills- and experience-wise. I’m literally shaking my head as I am writing this. Oh, all the stress I could have avoided if I had done things correctly from the start.
So, that month was dissertation writing + haphazardly applying to industry jobs that piqued my interest + trying to extract whatever joy I could out of the heavy, stressful summer.
I got through one interview process for a Medical Writing position all the way to the very end, and they asked me for 6 references. After submitting my 6 references, crickets.
A week later, I was rejected from the job.
So many thoughts crossed my mind, like if I had submitted the wrong references and if some of them (my PI, perhaps?) sabotaged my chances. Or maybe they didn’t like the 2nd interview I did with them (it was recruiter call, first panel behavioral interview, written assignment, then second panel technical interview). Was my medical writing assignment up to par?
I would never really know.
Before I knew it, I had to put my job applications on the back burner, because my defense was coming up. I defended in early September 2021, and I took 2 weeks off for vacation.
Then, I started my postdoc in late September 2021. My reasons for doing so were:
- I needed the income and didn’t want to be unemployed. I thought it’d look better when applying to jobs to be a postdoc than be unemployed.
- The person who was a grad student before me in the lab was still a postdoc in the lab 3 years later. Not my problem, but it felt like the logical flow of how people in my lab operated. She published her Ph.D. paper 2 years after she graduated. I thought I’d end up with the same fate. I think I needed more confidence. But academia does that to you – it makes you feel like there’s no “out”, like there are no other options.
- My PI said some stuff about how he “could hire anyone” he wanted and so he was “doing me a favor by keeping me on” because he knew I “needed the money”. He also said things like how we have to scratch each others’ backs and how the job market is going to slow down due to the holidays so I should just try again in 2022. The hell does he know about industry jobs?
I was the only one in the lab that was able to do this really advanced research technique that really tied my dissertation together. It included a long procedure in the lab followed by bioinformatic analysis of the results. My PI didn’t even understand what I was doing, but it was super up-and-coming research technique that I was proud to have taught myself. My PI wanted to squeeze out another data set from a new sample type, and at least some of the preliminary analysis, before I left.
Anyway, I signed the postdoc contract and started a really depressing and uninspiring postdoc in the lab I did my Ph.D.
The entire situation was depressing the hell out of me. I was so sad about having to continue in the lab, doing benchwork, and things not going right all fall. I was troubleshooting sample prep. I hadn’t generated any new data and I was honestly an empty husk of a person for those months in the fall and winter.
During those months in late 2021, I was also working on my Ph.D. manuscript. Yep, I didn’t have a first-author manuscript from my time in my Ph.D. program. I personally couldn’t care less, because clearly I could get interviews and apply to jobs without one (and I got plenty more interviews and my eventual job in Medical Writing without a first-author research publication).
My PI wanted me to analyze a whole new cell type from my dataset that I hadn’t really studied much of during my Ph.D., so it took me a month or so to do that. I was writing up those results and tying everything together.
The holidays rolled around and I started this blog. I also started my Twitter. I was really depressed and I was writing as a way to cope.
In the end of December, I improved my resume and sent it out to a bunch of companies, I’d say around 10 or so. At that point, my spreadsheet from the summer depressed me too much so I didn’t use it anymore. I stopped keeping track of every application I sent out.
My resume and cover letters were better but they still weren’t the best they could be. I was also still applying to a bunch of positions that sounded interesting to me, and I still didn’t really understand the positions well enough. I was getting a few replies.
January 3-7: I had 1 interview the very first week of January, but it didn’t go anywhere and I was rejected 1 week later. I also had a meeting with my PI that week letting him know that I was ramping up my job search. He said that he just wanted me to be happy and that he knows that finding an industry job is what I want.
January 10-14: I was in this really depressed and crazy state where I was applying to every job I could find that remotely sounded like what I wanted to do. It was probably the lowest I felt. I was so miserable in my postdoc that I wanted to quit. The only reason I stayed on was for the income and because I might need to get a reference from my PI (which I didn’t end up needing for the job I got).
January 17-21: I had 2 interviews that week and they both wanted me to move forward. Neither of them ended up being things I actually wanted to do, though. One of them was to be a Lab Manager for a (genuinely amazing sounding) biotech startup with decent funding, and the other one was to be a Scientific Sales person for a life sciences research supply company.
I decided not to move forward with the startup because it was a startup (unstable, long hours, work is life vibe) and the role of the Lab Manager sounded super nebulous. Plus, it’d mean I’d have to relocate and I didn’t want to do that for a variety of personal reasons. The Scientific Sales one ended up not really appealing to me because I thought about it a bit more and realized I wanted to do Support, rather than Sales.
That week, I looked up how I could improve my resume even more, and also realized I had to be a bit more selective about which positions I applied to so I don’t waste my own time. I seriously re-vamped my resume to what it is now, using tools like the Cheeky Scientist Free Resume Guide and Zety Ph.D. Resume Example and Guide for Industry & Non-Academic Jobs.
That’s when everything changed for the better.
January 24-28: This was my crazy week where I had 6 interviews scheduled. I canceled the Scientific Sales one because like I mentioned above, I wasn’t super interested, so that number went down to 5.
This was also the week I applied for the job I actually ended up getting. It’s a Medical Writing role that required applicants to have a Ph.D. or an M.D., and involved a lot of things I really liked doing, including learning about new diseases and therapeutics. One of those 5 interviews was an initial recruiter screen for it! My new resume that I had prepared from the week before was definitely working.
Because I had so many interviews, I improved on my interview skills too and felt much more comfortable going into interviews in general. Out of all the interviews I did since 2022 began, I was rejected after only 1 of them! I moved forward in all the other prospects and did the rejecting myself!
January 31-February 4: I had an assignment I had to do for my new job as part of the application process, so I did that and submitted it. I then had a follow-up interview for that job with a panel of people and passed that too. I got an email saying they wanted to offer me the job that Friday!
I also heard back from even more jobs that scheduled screens and follow-up interviews (including a 6-hour virtual onsite) for the next week. I kept those appointments because I knew the process wasn’t over until I actually signed the offer (and the company signed it too).
February 7-11: This was the crazy week where I negotiated my offer and signed it.
Once the company signed it too and everything was set, I canceled my remaining interviews.
I also had a meeting with my PI where I told him about the offer and then he blew up at me and spewed a bunch of toxicity. A crazy combination of negging, manipulative rewriting of history, and generally uncontrolled anger that he didn’t get what he wanted out of me. I kept my cool and tried my best to stand up for myself, but I couldn’t believe how he went off. The fake woke facade came down and I finally realized all those little jabs and negs from the past 6 years were unjustifiable.
I cut him off that weekend in a carefully worded email, saying that his behavior towards me was belittling, disrespectful, and unacceptable, that for my mental health I’ll no longer do anything related to the lab, I uploaded all my data to the lab Dropbox, and I wasn’t interested in being an author on the paper, effective immediately.
He responded saying he was sorry I didn’t understand that he just wanted the best for me and he was sorry I felt that way. He said he’ll finish the paper and that he’ll still put me as first author. It was a complete 180 from how he behaved over Zoom, and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact it was via his work email, and that email can be preserved and viewed by others, the way Zoom calls aren’t. Either way, I was free.
Now I’m here on Valentine’s Day, typing up this post!
I know it could have taken a lot longer, and I feel lucky that the company that I am joining decided to take a chance on me. If I had known that I could get a job in a matter of a month, if I knew everything I was doing right off the bat, I would have quit my postdoc much earlier.
My biggest takeaway from this, and what I want you to understand, is something I also mention in my blog post about important things to know about applying to industry jobs after grad school/postdoc:
If you start off with a strong resume, strong cover letter, and decent interviewing skills, you should be able to get an industry job in 2-3 months. That’s if you choose the right positions for you, that you have experience in and fit well with. Sure, life can get in the way, the job market may cool down a bit, there may be better candidates, and I’m just one person talking about my own personal experiences only.
But I’ve seen enough to know that the path into industry is really not that hard once you figure out the things you’re good at, market yourself well, and keep at it for a little while.
The mental health toll of the past couple months was nothing like I had ever experienced before. I’ve always gotten this one dry, red patch on my face from stress, and I affectionately called it my “stress patch”. I got 4 on my face during the past month!
Now I’m taking 2 weeks off to rest, recover, and congratulate myself for a job well done. I’m so excited to start my job and even though I know it’ll be hard work, I’m feeling wholly ready for the challenge.
I’m free from academia forever, and I’m really grateful for that.